September 24, 2008

McCain's Latest Gambit

McCain suspends his campaign to return to Washington to lead an effort for a bipartisan bailout of Wall Street. He's pushing this action as simply in line with his campaign motto - "country first".

I agree with Dave G. at Race42008:
1) The whole thing feels like a gimmick, and voters can intuit that. What voters infer from this move isn’t that McCain is putting country first, but that he’s attempting to utilize misdirection yet again to cover up what voters will assume to be McCain’s dearth of solutions regarding the economy. The campaign suspension becomes a political prop, much as Palin has become one, a woman who should be doing serious interviews about energy and growth with serious journalists. 4) But won’t McCain get momentum from showing leadership on the bailout? Probably not. The bailout is extremely unpopular with two groups McCain needs in November: conservatives, who see it as a market-corrupting scheme, and moderates, who see it as Washington once again putting special interests firsts.

Matthew makes an additional good point that McCain was facing bad options if he opposed the plan:

"So McCain will have put himself in the position of stopping a plan Democrats (and Bush) assured us would revitalize the economy, as the economy continues to go South. Total disaster. Realistically, he needed to do something he has never managed in the past; actually control a significant number of Congressional Republicans. That probably really does require him to do some hard ground work, twist some arms, etc."

They jointly make the case that McCain is being his mavericky self and putting country first and as a practical matter, he didn't have much of a choice if he really believed something has to be passed, but its clear republicans won't give it the votes.

Even if you go with that logic, the political benefits accruing to McCain if he is successful with this maneuver are plentiful:

  • Pushes debate schedule back and lets him do the foreign policy debate closer to the election, when presumably his better showing would have greater impact
  • Pushes back the VP debate, giving Palin more time for prep, possibly even scrapping the debate all together.
  • Gives him the newscycle for the next week, maybe even two if he plays it right and it really goes his way by having a consensus emerge over the weekend. This has the benefit of suppressing the Rick Davis lobbying story and the Palin affair scandal.
  • If he actually gets fellow republicans on board a compromise that they can throw in Obama and the Dem's face, he comes out looking like the leader and Obama looks ineffectual.
So there are lots of political reasons to make this move. I think the bailout is a bad idea. I think crafting legislation for a $700 billion dollar one over a weekend is a worse idea.

I don't think the debates should be cancelled. This feels like a stunt, especially if McCain can't really deliver on a compromise bill which I'm skeptical can be done given the copious amounts of republican antipathy to it. The issue is the question of walking and chewing gum at the same time. No need to suspend the campaign, thats why you have a running mate and 2nd. Seems to me if this is the strategy, now is a great time to put Palin front and center running the campaign while Maverick deals with the situation.